SHE Creates

3 September 2007, Bombay

Girls from Uncle’s Free Coaching Classes
Participants from Uncle’s Free Coaching Classes

Twenty five girls, in rows of five, filled the small auditorium at Digital Academy, for their sixth (out of a total of ten) workshop in film making. They sat according to height, with the smallest girls first. I marveled at the fact that girls as young as eight or nine were participating in this program, but it turned out that the small girls in the front of the auditorium were the same age as the tallest girls in the very back – 15 and 16 years old. (The youngest participants are 10 years old.)

the world will watch as SHE creates

SHE Creates is a month-long initiative of Mam Movies, in association with Laadli, a girl-child campaign of Population First, to give girls a voice through the medium of film.

This workshop was geared to critiquing footage shot by the girls on Sunday – their very first day of shooting – and to introduce the editing software they would be using to complete their films within the next week and a half!

The first footage we saw was taken by the girls from Uncle’s Free Coaching Classes. “Uncle” and his family (in particular, his daughter Rehana), educate Muslim girls in different neighborhoods in Bombay, giving these girls their only opportunity for informal education and vocational training. Uncle’s girls are making a film on bride burning and harassment. When the script was being developed, Meghna (one of the co-founders of Mam Movies) asked: “How are you going to depict the burning of the bride?” The girls thought about it and came up with a solution: film the burning of a piece of paper in a dark room.

The girls from Learn, an organization working with the girls from Dharavi, Asia’s largest slum (the second largest in the world), are making a film on education and vocational training of girls – the focus of the NGO that supports them. Their footage showed amazing shots of the narrow lanes in Dharavi and people climbing up straight ladders to enter their homes through narrow openings in the ceiling/floor (much like attic entrances in “Colonial” style homes on the East coast of the U.S.). (I wonder what they think about their potential displacement as huge swaths of Dharavi will soon be given over to developers by the Slum Rehabilitation Authority.)

The girls from the Rescue Foundation are also making a film about what they know – the flesh trade. Their footage opens with green, open fields (a village), shows members of a “family”, and the kidnap and eventual rescue of one of the girls in the family. These girls have not understood that they need to make a “real” film, with actors (and not one of them playing the “brother”) – this is not a “street play” with which most of them are familiar. Salma, one of the loudest girls on the team, and in fact, of all the twenty five girls, is uncharacteristically shy when she sees herself on film – she covers her face in her hands and hunkers down in her chair, hiding from herself.

The girls from Apne Aap have not had a chance to shoot, but they have a killer (no pun intended) script about female foeticide and have worked out all the details in preparation for their full-day shoot the next day.

Maa, it’s my 1st month in your womb, I can see the world through your eyes…
It’s my 2nd month in your womb, I can feel your love…
Maa, why are you sad today? Why are you at the operation theater? Maa, why am I going far from you?
Maa, please, I want to born. Maa, save me, please…

The girls from Bombay Cambridge High School haven’t shot anything (they gave the equivalent of “the dog ate my homework” excuse: “we didn’t have any tape”) and had internal conflicts about the script. These girls are the only girls from privileged backgrounds, and they seemed relatively immature for their age (12 and 13) and their standard (8th grade). (Mam wanted to have a more balanced distribution of groups, with two groups from privileged schools and three from informal, NGO programs, but one of the private schools backed out at the last moment.) You could tell that most of them didn’t take this initiative seriously (three of the girls from Bombay Cambridge were the only ones not wearing the program T-shirts) and were having difficulty coming up with a script with which they could identify. They had a couple of scripts in mind – one on early marriage and one on gender restrictions in middle class families. Madhu (the other co-founder of Mam) spent some time talking them through a script during a break in the workshop, and Akash and Rahul, two Mam volunteers, accompanied the girls back to their school so that they could provide additional guidance. Whatever Akash and Rahul said to them worked. Rahul got a phone call later that evening with a revised script that was excellent: Part 1 – a lower class girl is forced into early marriage. Part 2 – a middle class girl is refused international travel for a sports competition. Part 3 – an upper class girl is not allowed to take a high-paying job on the night shift. End – narrator: No matter what the class, why don’t girls have a say in their own future?

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